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Poetry Parnassus This summer, 204 poets from around the world will take part in a one-off festival of poetry readings, performance and debate. 'Poetry Parnassus' is the brainchild of Simon Armitage, which grew from modest beginnings as "an idea on the back of an envelope" to possibly "the biggest gathering of poets in history" (The Guardian). Poets from each of the competing Olympic nations will travel to London to revive a forgotten Greek tradition, where a certain breed of writers known as epinikia would recite specially commissioned poetry to honour the victors of the ancient Hellenic Games. Yet this international event will have a distinctly British character. Armitage, who is the artist in residence at the Southbank Centre, aptly described the event as "a big sort of fair, where people are bringing their wares and putting them on display". Instead of a hotdog stand, you’ll find a ‘Poetry Takeaway’, where poems are made to order. If you’re looking to win some prizes, go no further than ‘You Punch

Are Women's Only Shortlists good for literature?

Yes

Firstly let me iterate that I am an ardent feminist. However, I am also realist, and the reality of the situation is that the publishing industry is still a gender biased one. After all, when Marian Evans began publishing her work in 1800’s, it had to be under the pseudonym ‘George Eliot’. While we’d all like to believe we live in a more enlightened society, over one hundred years after Eliot’s death, Joanne Rowling had to go to print as ‘J K’, ostensibly in order not to alienate half of her young audience. If such brilliant female authors are still labouring under gender prejudice, it serves to reason that gender segregated shortlists should be considered as a step towards an egalitarian world. Feminism is about gender equality rather than a female supremacy. Separating the shortlists would serve to protect both male and female entrants and judges from unhelpful accusations of discrimination, or of the inclusion of ‘token’ male of female entrants. As there is no feasible way to ensure identity/gender anonymity for the entrants, separating the shortlists is the only way to eliminate unhelpful and petty debate about measuring the value of men and women’s work against each other. It should not be considered a final solution, or an act of sweeping the issue under the rug. Instead, by removing negative contention it would serve as a stepping-stone towards a gender neutral judging system. India Block

Like Keats’, the literary e q u i v a lent of ‘Test Your Strength’ at the launch event ‘Rain o f P o e m s ’ , which is only the 6th of its kind, in which 100,000 poems will fall from a helicopter onto the Jubilee Garden. It is an event which has the potential to re-establish an ancient connection between poetry and performance, ceremony and celebration. The poets have all been nominated by the public of their home countries, so are well-placed to express the voice of their respective nations. While the best sportsmen in the world battle it out in the stadium, the best writers in the world will demonstrate the continuing relevance of the spoken word. Poetry Parnassus will run from 26 June to 1 July. Each poet will contribute to an anthology called ‘The World Record’, which comes out on 26 June. Tickets are free, so if you happen to be in London, it should be well worth a visit. Elizabeth Bingham

Lest We Forget Alice Oswald’s new epic poem Memorial is less a reworking of Homer’s Iliad than an “excavation” of it. Rather than focus on the story everyone knows, Oswald recovers the hidden narratives of the Trojan War and captures the stories behind the names of those who fought and were killed – working back over the fleeting details of their lives from the single moment of their deaths. In weaving these stories together, Oswald has managed to create a poem that is simple and primitive in its sorrow, a lament which captures the rawness of grief without idealising the glory of death in war. Oswald claims that her fascination with Homer extends back to having first read the Iliad at sixteen and has continued to return to Homer again and again, enthralled by the enargeia or “bright, unbearable reality” of his poetry. It is this enargeia that Oswald describes herself as trying to retrieve in writing Memorial. Having stripped away the plot of the Iliad, Memorial draws to mind a list of the war dead on a cenotaph. And yet to describe it as merely a list does not give full credit to the power and poignancy of the poem. The poem is beautiful yet elegiac in its recovery of the honour of the death of each individual. The soldiers seem to step forward briefly into view, before disappearing again into oblivion, so that the poem accumulates, rather than progresses.

By restoring the lives of the soldiers, Oswald brings to life the men behind the names – there is the farm boy, away from home for the first time; the brave hunter who is killed by a single spear; a pair of brothers who fall together on the battlefield. Everyone is someone’s father or son. Oswald gives flesh to the names and gathers them in a scattered mass of humanity The beauty of Memorial lies in its orality as much as its language. I would recommend listening to the audio recording in addition to reading the poem if you can, in order to appreciate the full impact of its repetitions and images. Even better if you can go to see Oswald recite it in person – delivering the whole poem completely from memory, Oswald does not so much read Memorial as give a harrowing and memorising performance of it, so that the images stay with you long after she has finished speaking. Ellie Swire

No

Esteemed authors Toby Litt and Ali Smith identified some of the writing entered into the Orange Prize for Fiction as "disappointingly domestic, the opposite of risk-taking." Whilst the prize recognizes many talented female authors, it may unfairly provide a gateway for some substandard literature. Literature must be considered regardless of gender in order to heighten competition. Roland Barthes, a famous literary theorist, argues "the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author." In other words, literature should be judged on individual merit, its importance is to be sourced within the effects it has on the reader. The problem with the Orange Prize is its enforcing of gender identification; it directs the reader to consider literature in the light of who it is written by. If a work is good enough it will stand up for itself, demonstrated by the success of female writers in other competitions- in 2009 Hilary Mantel won the booker prize for fiction with ‘Wolf Hall’. A gender-specific prize implies that female authors will not address the same issues as male authors, and the subject of the fiction will be feminine based. This is detrimental; a female author can experience writing fiction just as a male author can. Therefore literature prizes should simply be about great writing.

books@yorkvision.co.uk

Scene Issue 226  
Scene Issue 226  

Scene York Vision

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